James Blackwood, the last founding member of the Blackwood Brothers Quartet and one of the giants of Southern gospel music, died yesterday (Feb. 3) of complications of a stroke in Memphis. He was 82. Blackwood suffered with several health problems the past few years, including colon cancer.
The Blackwood Brothers Quartet recorded more than 200 albums, toured the world, and helped form the Gospel Music Association in 1964. The group was a favorite of Elvis Presley, who sang briefly with James’ nephew Cecil in another quartet, the Songfellows.
Under James Blackwood’s leadership, the group “made an indelible impression upon millions worldwide,” according to Frank Breeden, president of the Gospel Music Association. “Whether through television, radio or live performances, they set and maintained a standard on relating to an audience that is still influencing performers today.”
The group was formed in 1934 by James, his brothers Roy and Doyle, and Roy’s son R.W. The family then lived in rural Choctaw County, Miss., where James Blackwood was born. The group toured successfully until World War II, when it temporarily disbanded. After the war the Blackwoods regrouped, and moved to Memphis in 1950.
In June 1954, the Blackwood Brothers Quartet appeared on “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” on television, and won the competition. But two weeks later, R.W. and bass singer Bill Lyles died in a plane crash in Alabama. The surviving Blackwoods regrouped again, adding Cecil Blackwood and J.D. Sumner. In 1970, James Blackwood retired because of health problems and was replaced by his son Jimmy.
When his health improved, James Blackwood would occasionally perform with the group, and he founded two other quartets, Masters Five and the James Blackwood Quartet.
The Blackwood Brothers Quartet won eight Grammies from 1966-1982, some for backup singing for country stars such as Barbara Mandrell and Porter Wagoner. James Blackwood was named best male vocalist by the GMA seven times. He was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1974 individually, then again in 1998 as part of the Blackwood Brothers Quartet.
Blackwood is survived by his wife of 62 years, Miriam; sons, Jimmy and Billy; six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
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